Posts Tagged 'Teach for America'

Teach For America: Semester Wrap-Up

As the academic year closes, students in the College of Education’s Masters Degree programs are wrapping up extensive research and consultant projects — read on to learn more about their work!

Enrolled in the College of Education and serving as Teach For America-Milwaukee corps members for two years, these graduate students in Dr. Patricia Ellis’ Analysis of Teaching Course are no strangers to the rigors of academic life both on Marquette University’s campus and in their classrooms.

We asked Tyra Hildebrand, Assistant Director of the College of Education’s TFA partnership, and Dr. Ellis to weigh in on the students’ final projects for this course.

As students put theory into practice within their classrooms, they are able to highlight how social justice, cultural responsiveness, rigor, differentiation, and inquiry not only increase student achievement but also develop their students’ soft skills.

How did this particular assignment come about?

Tyra Hildebrand (TH): “This unit plan assignment has been a regular part of the Analysis of Teaching course at MU. However, four years ago, Dr. Whipp and I made some important modifications to the assignment, in order to ensure our in-service teachers created a culturally relevant, student based, inquiry curriculum project. A book that was used in multiple classes, Pedagogy of Confidence by Yvette Jackson, identifies seven High Operational Practices, which was an additional framework for the project:

· Identifying and Activating Student Strengths

· Building Relationships

· Eliciting High Intellectual Performance

· Providing Enrichment

· Integrating Prerequisites for Academic Learning

· Situating Learning in the Lives of Students

· Amplifying Student Voice

The teachers also had to incorporate the Inquiry Learning Model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate) into their Unit Plan.”

Jake Burkard, Chemistry/Math Teacher, Bay View High School, “Heat of Combustion: Magnesium”

What are your goals for the students?

TH: “One of the goals for this project is for our in-service teachers to realize they can successfully plan and facilitate a real-world investigation with their students. This required them to move into highly constructivist teaching methods, which can be unsettling at first. The teachers also noted how truly engaged their students were in this project, which will hopefully carry on in further curriculum planning. Additionally, they recognized how cross-curricular their projects were, and hopefully that will result in reaching out to their teaching colleagues for planning future projects.”

Dr. Patricia Ellis (PE): “Inquiry-based learning brings a level of energy, inquisitiveness, rigor, and excitement into the classroom that makes learning meaningful and relevant for the teacher and their students. The learner-centered curriculum project allows the TFA students to facilitate learning in a manner that supports and nurtures the academic and social-emotional development of the whole child.

Engagement in this project encourages the TFA students to grow professionally and personally as they broaden and deepen their skills, talents, and gifts as well as the skills, talents, and gifts of the students in their classrooms.

As the TFA students discuss the impact of the project on their students, they frequently speak to how they see their classroom attendance increase, students becoming more actively engaged in learning, and students taking great pride in their accomplishments. They also express how this project facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues and allows them to explore potential partnerships with community organizations.

The process and completion of this project teaches students how intentional planning, organization, persistence, flexibility, creativity, trust, diligence, belief, resiliency, determination, and reflection in addition to content knowledge are powerful skills and dispositions for classroom teachers to possess and practice on a daily basis.”

Allison Gleiss and her student, Math Teacher, Carmen Northwest High School, “Loans and Logarithms: A Car Buying Guide”

What are the benefits of the presentation?

PE: “Seeing the amazing displays of their students’ work along with hearing the passion in their voices as they present their learner-centered curriculum projects clearly demonstrates how engagement in this project helps to change and transform the TFA students’ instructional practices and levels of student engagement.

As students put theory into practice within their classrooms, they are able to highlight how social justice, cultural responsiveness, rigor, differentiation, and inquiry not only increase student achievement but also develop their students’ soft skills.”

Too often, teachers are isolated in their own classroom, but this project allowed the teachers to showcase the student learning.

TH: “Having the opportunity to publicly share the findings of their project is highly rewarding. Each year, we see how proud the teachers are of what their middle and high school students accomplished. We have seen over the years in this project, that the K-12 students always go above and beyond their teachers’ expectations. The teachers also have the opportunity to see what projects their peers facilitated, which is enlightening.”

Teddy Amdur, Physics/Math Teacher, Bay View High School, “Shark Tank: Exploring the Intersection of Entrepreneurship & Systems of Inequalities”

What are the benefits of the feedback?

PE: “Feedback from peers, supervisors, coaches, professional educators, and other professors allows the students to reflect on and enhance their professional practice in order to maximize student achievement and engagement. The feedback also serves to motivate, encourage, nurture, and inspire students to face challenges with courage and to autograph their work in the classroom with excellence.”

Annie Teigen, HOPE High School, “Case File Chemistry”

TH: “Our audience members and fellow teachers provided a great deal of constructive feedback for the presenter to contemplate if they were to embark on this project again. This cohort of teachers regularly learns from one another and they push each other to become better for their students. Too often, teachers are isolated in their own classroom, but this project allowed the teachers to showcase the student learning.”

Want to learn more about TFA and Marquette University’s College of Education’s graduate programs? Visit us online!

Wrapping Up the Semester

writingThe end of the semester, the academic year, and even students’ time in the College of Education can be both challenging and exhilarating. For those students pursuing their Masters Degrees in the College of Education, this time of year brings presentations and the culmination of extensive research.

In particular, four of our programs (Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Educational Administration, Student Affairs in Higher Education, and Teach For America) have wrapped up with student presentations. Hard work, perseverance, and academic rigor have paid off in many ways. Read on for more details on our students and what they’ve been studying!

Want to learn more about graduate programs in the College of Education at Marquette University? Visit us online today!

I Applied to TFA…and Got Rejected

Teach-For-America-Logo.pngBy Amanda Szramiak – I know what you’re thinking. I’m writing for the Marquette University Educator Blog, and I applied for Teach for America. I’m a disgrace. A teacher failure. Before you make your judgments, let me explain my thought process.

I too, struggle with Teach for America as an organization. A program that allows anyone to be the teacher in a classroom? I don’t think so. I’ve spent the past five years preparing to be an effective educator. My coursework coupled with over two hundred hours in an actual classroom have prepared me to successfully teach…or so I thought.

During my inquiry in contemporary issues course last semester, we had to research a topic in education and write an op-ed about our opinion of the topic. I decided I would research Teach for America because I felt so passionately about it being an insult to teachers. I thought this would be an easy topic to research and discuss because I knew I was against it. Well, my research and a few conversations with a fellow MU education student made me rethink my adamant opinions.

A dear friend and colleague of mine (who attends Marquette and is currently student teaching) applied and received a Teach for America position last semester. We were having a conversation about our research topics, and I told her all about my woes with Teach for America. Ironically, she told me she just accepted a position with them. Embarrassed of voicing my opinions thinking hers, as a fellow educator, would be the same, I asked her why she decided to join TFA when she could more than likely get any job teaching without the organization. She explained the struggles she faced when applying for TFA, which resembled mine. We discussed her TFA plans, and once I heard them, I knew it was going to be hard to be so against the program like I once was.

Like all research, you learn a lot. Once my research was done and I had to write my op-ed about the program, I was stuck. While I don’t agree with the fact that a TFA teacher receives six weeks of training, there were some aspects that were appealing to me. I could teach full time while simultaneously getting my master’s degree. Their core values of closing the achievement gap by providing educational equality completely align with my opinions on education. Not all those applying to TFA have the background I do, so I really would “Be the Difference” in the program. I decided the pros in applying outweighed the cons so I started my application.

I became so immensely excited about all the things TFA could bring to me. I know I want to teach in an urban setting, but I want to get out of the Midwest. With TFA, that could easily happen. TFA and their relationships with master programs could help me narrow down what I want to specialize in. When you apply for something, you become invested in it, and I became excited about being a Teach for America teacher.

Once the application part was over, I was invited to a phone interview. It seemed to go well despite the awkward interruptions of being on the phone and not seeing the other person. I had to wait a week to see if I was invited to a final interview, which I unfortunately was not.

Getting an email saying that I was not cut out to be a TFA teacher was definitely hard to swallow. I began to question myself not only as an applicant but also as a teacher. Even though I used to be strongly against TFA as an educator, it was difficult to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be one. I eventually realized the competiveness of the program, and I decided to not let it affect my ability to teach. I still want to be a teacher and provide excellent education for all, and my rejection from TFA only strengthened my desire to do so.

On the Expansion of Teach For America in Baltimore

teach_for_americaBy Nick McDaniels — About a month ago, I participated in a panel discussion at Loyola University Maryland on the proposed expansion of alternative teacher preparation programs.

Naturally, I was there to beat the drum for traditional teacher prep programs. It was a very well-organized and thoughtful dialogue featuring two traditionally-trained educators and two alternatively-certified educators, but since the event I have been thinking about the proposed expansion of Teach for America in Baltimore City and the questions that were not answered during the panel discussion. Primarily, I have been thinking that if the expansion of Teach for America is inevitable, and with the political clout and the TFA bank account, it very well may be, what would need to happen to make TFA’s experience in Baltimore one that actually makes a positive impact in the lives of children not one that produces haphazard positive results based on the amazing work of a few cohort members?

Here’s what I have come up with, a list I’ll call “What TFA Needs to Do to Finally Make an Impact.”

1) Increase the term of service to five years. There is great research that says a teacher’s best work begins to happen around the fifth year. So who exactly is TFA afraid of losing by doing this? The two-year (or less) and done folks who have been their only Achilles heel in the press? Maybe those that would still go through the process would be a much higher quality, or at least much more dedicated, teacher for our children.

2) Recruit only from colleges within 40 miles of Baltimore City. There is more great research that teachers have a higher rate of retention if they work in a place close to where they have a connection. Home and/or college proximity may do the trick.

3) Change the interview questions to weed out teachers who may struggle. The first two interview questions should be: a) what was your experience like in public school as a child? and b) what was it like growing up as a working class child in America? If the answer to either question is “I don’t know,” an immediate flag should be placed next to the person as someone who may have trouble connecting with students.

4) Begin spending some of that political capital. Teach for America is a political and corporate darling, leaving it well-funded and with immense political power. Throwing the organization’s weight behind issues like class-size and over-testing instead of focusing increasingly on organizational maintenance could be key to making an impact.

5) Do not hire people into the organizational structure until they have taught for 10 years. Part of TFA’s retention problem is its own hiring. Many TFA success stories, and there are many, end abruptly when the TFA takes their best teachers out of classrooms to make them part of the TFA organization as coaches, mentors, etc… For starters, a teacher who would be a fourth-year is not an ideal mentor. Also, actively contributing to the churn of new teachers is clear evidence that TFA benefits from lacking teacher retention (read as: profits from the churn by increased contracts to bring in more teachers the next year). If I were TFA, I’d want to distance myself from that as much as possible.

As you can tell, I think teacher retention is key to improving struggling school districts. You may disagree. TFA disagrees publicly, but we are allowed to differ on these ideas. The only difference with me is, I don’t stand to gain from a lack of teacher retention. In fact, I stand, like the kids, to lose. I should note that I am not supportive of a TFA expansion anywhere. I do not want a program funded largely by Wal-Mart, Exxon, Wells-Fargo, and Visa to have a strangle-hold on teacher preparation and therefore on how our children are taught. But if such an expansion is inevitable, TFA should heed my advice and allow the men and women who sign up with the organization to do the work they dreamed to do: make a great impact on the lives of children.

Monopoly on Teacher Training

By Nick McDaniels — Recently Baltimore City Public Schools, like many school districts around the nation in this economy, has severely limited the hiring of new teachers. In fact, principals in the district are only allowed to choose from teachers who are alternatively certified or teachers that were considered surplus somewhere else in the district.

You read that correctly: any teacher that wants a job in Baltimore City better either already work in the district or be from either Teach For America (TFA) or Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR).

The severe teaching shortage that spawned a need for alternative certification programs no longer exists. However, these programs continue to expand their influence, and by way of robust contracts, maintain a stranglehold on the hiring of new teachers in districts around the country.

Those of you who know me, know that I had a tremendously difficult time getting a job as a traditionally trained teacher in one of the nation’s most needy school districts. Today, it would be an impossibility.

As consumers in this economy we are encouraged that competition helps to bring us better products at lesser costs. I am concerned then, as a resident of Baltimore City, that I am going to send my daughter to a school where alternative certification programs have monopolized staffing, thus allowing no competition to provide better teachers for my child. For the economists out there, and I am surely not one, I realize that this is more of an oligopoly than a monopoly as TFA and BCTR are competing organizations, though they are no doubt cut from the same cloth. I consider them like Democrats and Republicans, only two of many viable political options, but the only two parties that are allowed to fully participate in our democracy, or, in more consumerist terms, like Apple’s OSX and Windows, only two of many operating system choices, but the only two that most people are aware of.

While I personally believe that traditionally trained teachers are far more ready to make an immediate positive impact on children, I am not advocating for the abolition of alternative certification programs. Quite frankly, I am proud to stand next to alternatively certified teachers in the hallways every day. I have planned lessons with them, broken up fights with them, and learned a great deal from them. In the end, we are all teachers, doing the same difficult work.

I am advocating for choice. Before we get so far along in history that the only teachers poor and often minority children know are alternatively certified teachers, we need to intervene and be sure that talented, eager, invested students from local universities have a fair chance at earning local teaching positions, that they are allowed to student teach in local schools where they might again hope that there could be a job waiting for them at the end of their program.

Parents, students, community members, principals, other teachers should all have a voice in where new teachers come from. As a parent, if my child is going to have a brand new teacher, which is not ideal, I would prefer if it were at the very least a possibility that my child would have a teacher that has been invested in the community, one that has perhaps attended a local university (Morgan State University, Loyola University Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, and Towson University are all just a few miles from my house), and has served field placements in the local school system as an undergrad.

If the teacher matters more than anything else in education, as has been the mantra of the recent education reform movement, why are we not making more of an effort to ensure that the teachers who are the best prepared are given priority opportunity to reach our children?

We need to rethink hiring practices with the best interest of students in mind, and if the teacher is such a necessary component of a good education, then why, with all we know about the evils of monopolization, are we not encouraged to provide parents, students, community members, principals, and teachers, with a free and open choice about who teaches our children?

Personnel Passions Project: Tyra Hildebrand

Tyra Hildebrand spends her days working with Teach For America students as Marquette’s program coordinator. But, in her spare time, Tyra can often be found getting her work out on the soccer field. While her main passion is raising her two girls (ages 6 and 9) to be caring, considerate, contributing members of society, Tyra also enjoys the break from her everyday routine that playing soccer affords her.

VIEW SOCCER SLIDESHOW (photos by Ben Smidt)

Tyra has been playing soccer since she was 7 years old. Her three older siblings also played the sport, along with her mother, who played on a team when she was growing up in the Bay Area of California. All in all, Tyra has played soccer for well over twenty years! In fact, she specifically chose to attend a Division III school so she could continue to play soccer competitively while in college. Continue reading ‘Personnel Passions Project: Tyra Hildebrand’

What I Did This Summer: Preparing to Teach For America

Isral DeBruinBy Isral DeBruin— I stood there on the first day of school, a new teacher in his new classroom.

The bell would ring any minute and my fifth-grade students would arrive. This was the moment I had done so much to prepare for as a 2010 Teach For America corps member serving to close the achievement gap in Milwaukee.

But apparently I had not done quite enough — As I stood, lost in thought, I suddenly realized I had somehow forgotten to set out my classroom’s desks and chairs, which were still stacked neatly at the center of the room. I rushed to fix the problem as the first student came through the door. Flustered, I told the boy to get started on the… the… uh… I became aware I hadn’t prepared an opening activity for the day. How could I have forgotten? I began to panic. Another few students came through the door. My face blazed red with an uncomfortably warm mixture of surprise, embarrassment, shame and regret.

My eyes desperately searched the bulletin boards and chalkboards around the classroom. I had spent so much time carefully preparing them, and now they looked hastily assembled. The students were still waiting for direction. More of them arrived every moment to the as-yet-only-partly-set-up room, the desks still mostly stacked.

I snapped to attention as the last of my fifth-grade boys and girls filed into the room…

…and that’s when I woke up. I grabbed my phone to check the time and date, and gratefully realized it was June 19th, not September 1st. It was the last day of Teach For America Milwaukee’s Induction at Marquette University. Continue reading ‘What I Did This Summer: Preparing to Teach For America’


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